Alcohol sales clampdown call is 'rehash of old ideas'

By Fred A'Court

- Last updated on GMT

Alcohol misuse: research organisation calls for tighter measures on alcohol sales in report
Alcohol misuse: research organisation calls for tighter measures on alcohol sales in report

Related tags Scotch whisky association Drinking culture Alcoholic beverage

A research organisation’s report calling for tighter measures on alcohol sales has been labelled a rehash of demands that campaigning groups have been making for the past 10 years.

The Foundation for Liver Research (FLR) report coincided with an appeal made by the Scotch Whisky Association to the Supreme Court against minimum pricing of alcohol.

The report called Financial case for action on liver disease​ says that alcohol misuse costs England and Wales £21bn a year – and possibly as much as £52bn a year – in rising hospital admissions, increasing working days lost, and more benefits payments.

The FLR says it will cost the NHS £17bn over the next five years and is calling for minimum pricing, a duty escalator, higher duties on cider, restricted trading hours for off-licences and stronger regulation of marketing to reverse the rises.

But the Alcohol Information Partnership (AIP) says the FLP figures are distorted and it demands a rehashed mantra.

Living longer

AIP director general Dave Roberts said a rising population and the fact that people are living longer is the reason for the increases.

“According to Government data, alcohol consumption per capita across the UK has been falling year on year for over a decade and is now at a similar level to 40 years ago,” he said. 

The most recent Government data again shows that the vast majority of people drink within the Chief Medical Officer's guidelines, young adults are drinking less year on year, underage drinking is in decline and alcohol-related crime and disorder is falling.

“There remains some individuals that are causing harm to themselves and others by drinking too much.

“It is in everyone’s interest to tackle these specific problems and the alcohol industry is committed to targeted partnership projects involving retailers, licensees, charities and the industry to change behaviour and reduce harm.”

He accused the FLP of making the same old demands. “None of them are new. It’s the same recommendations that campaigning groups have been making for a decade or more, minimum unit pricing, restrictions on advertising, and restrictions on accessibility.

“Its their standard call for those three things. It is what they want and although we have seen consumption falling and harmful drinking falling, all those other key measures falling, they still have not changed their mantra, which is that you cannot do this working in partnership with retailers and the industry, you have got to do this by blanket intervention by Government.”

Alcohol misuse

Paul Chase, a commentator on alcohol policy and health, and a director of the CPL Training Group, said the number of deaths from alcohol-related diseases is not soaring as suggested in some media reports but remaining stable at around 14 to 14.3 deaths per 100,000 of the population, according to Office for National Statistics information.

“Most of these deaths occur in people aged between 55 to 65 – indicating that they are the result of persistent alcohol misuse by a tiny minority of drinkers over a lifetime.”

However Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, accused the Government of not doing enough to limit alcohol-related harm, given that reducing avoidable deaths from a range of life-threatening conditions is a key target of Government health policy.

"If this Government is serious about tackling the biggest causes of ill-health, safeguarding the vulnerable and protecting public services, it simply has to take action: she said. “The evidence is clear: raise the price of the cheapest alcohol to save lives and save money.”

In its report, the FLP recommends:

• A minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol: the first five years of a 50p MUP would generate £1.1bn of savings in total direct costs, while the total societal value would be worth £3bn. Scotland is awaiting the conclusion of a legal challenge on MUP led by the Scotch Whisky Association, while Wales also intends to legislate for MUP.

• The reintroduction of the alcohol duty escalator: a duty escalator 2% above inflation would result in a total saving of £226.9m to the NHS over a five-year period.

• A new higher duty band for cider, based on alcohol content between 5.5% and 7.5%: a 500ml can of cider at 7.5% ABV generates 19p duty, compared with 69p on a can of beer of equivalent size and strength. The Republic of Ireland has a higher rate of tax for cider above 6% to mitigate its harmful impact.

• Restrictions on trading hours for off-licences from 10am to 10pm and limit alcohol availability for on-licence after midnight: Australia has demonstrated large reductions in non-domestic assault by restricting trading hours.

• Stronger regulation of alcohol marketing and advertising: removing exposure to TV advertising for 11 to 18-year-olds would lead to a fall of 9% in alcohol consumption.

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